New medicinal plants

Speaking of medicinal plants, a remarkable study in Peru traces the traditional use of plants for all kinds of curative purposes from colonial times to the present. There’s an article on the work on SciDev.Net here but it is in Spanish. Although many plants used in colonial times have disappeared from the area of the study, traditional healers have replaced them with other species and have thus maintained their pharmacopeia. This is very much a living, evolving tradition.

Rescuing food traditions around the world

Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) “is a coalition of seven of the most prominent non-profit food, agriculture, conservation, and educational organizations dedicated to rescuing America’s diverse foods and food traditions.” You can download here their great book explaining what these traditions are. There’s also a map of North America’s “totem foods.”

Same topic, different region: Dr Lois Englberger of the Island Food Community of Pohnpei (right, with some of her NGO’s information products) has made Pacific Magazine’s list of “293 Pacific Leaders You Need To Know” because of her efforts to promote local island foods, food crops and food traditions. Congratulations, Lois, and keep up the good work!

Virgil on orthodox seed storage

Whether it was really about growing crops, rearing livestock and keeping bees or not, Virgil’s Georgics has some wonderfully evocative – and didactic, of course – passages about agriculture. Here’s what lines 197-204 have to say about genebanks (at least in this translation):

I have observed that seeds stored away for a long time, however thoroughly they are looked after still deteriorate, unless the greatest possible human effort is used in selecting the best individually by hand each year. In the same way all things go to the bad, lose their power and slip backwards – it is nature’s law. It’s exactly like when a sculler is trying his utmost to propel his boat up a river with his oars. If he happens to relax his arms for a moment, the current sweeps him away headlong downstream.